Yesterday I cried on and off most of the evening, went to bed and cried a little bit more. Woke up at 2.30am and failed to go back to sleep for another 2 hours as my mind wove its way through memories. Had a near one died? No. Was a loved one diagnosed with terminal illness? No. Were we about to declare bankruptcy? No. The source of my sadness … a friend moved to the other end of the country.
We make friends at many different stages in our lives. When we are young children our friends are mainly determined by our parents, they tend to be the children of their own friends. We start to take control of our friendships at nursery and then school. Some of our most enduring relationships are made at that time and I can include two friends I know I could call in the middle of the night from that era. However, most of those don’t last the strains of time, travel and growing up. During university and the early career years friends come and go as we move jobs, towns and even countries before we finally settle down in a career and/or a family.
It was at this stage in my life that this friendship was born. I had moved to Durham from Scotland, newly married and with a toddler daughter following my husband’s medical career to his first consultant post. She had just returned to Durham after a decade away, with three young children following her husband’s medical career to his first consultant post. We both had a ribald sense of humour seasoned with plenty of sarcasm and an instant understanding of what is was like to be the non-working, non-medical wife of a hospital consultant (in those days – fairly shit – you are pretty much a non-person in the eyes of many of their colleagues of all ranks). It transpired our husbands had been at the same college at Cambridge (although like most men they couldn’t remember) Our children were about to start in the same class at the same school. Hello new friend.
Like all relationships we moved along with the tides and there would be periods when we didn’t see each other as much. Once children became old enough to have outside interests and hobbies and husbands senior enough to be rarely around as they are sought after for conferences and committees across the country free time for coffee with friends is in short supply. Thank goodness for friends with more time who arranged dinner parties etc.
Then finally the children gained driving licences and then moved away to university. We began a regular knitting and stitching group, six friends with a wicked sense of humour and a mutual love of knitting and stitching. Ladies in Stitches was born. Twice a month we spent the day at my friend’s house and upped the yarn and thread ante. I learned to crochet, a dyed in the wool (no pun intended) stitcher learned to knit and has just completed her first pair of socks.
My friend introduced me to crewel work and I am still inordinately proud of my first ever attempt.
I rediscovered ribbon embroidery.
Another, a seriously accomplished crafter and professional seamstress took up lace work knitting with astonishing speed and equally astonishing skill.
We had in-jokes. At least five other people reading this will appreciate the significance of the squirrel!
We had days out to festivals, exhibitions, gardens, we opened each other’s eyes, we learned from each other, we had a lot of fun and we supported each other quietly as we did so. As each of us faced crises of sometimes quite frightening severity Ladies in Stitches wove a small part of the overall net that caught our fall.
Then a little part unravelled. My friend announced that they were moving to the other end of the country. It made perfect sense, that was where all their children lived, including her new grandchild. Having brought my own children up without grandparents within 300 miles I understood, but my lower lip wobbled just a little.
They sold their house but without somewhere to move to down south they were looking to rent. Lo and behold the tenants in our Barn had just left and they moved in next door. My girls thought it was hysterical. When they were younger the house next door to one of their friend’s in a nearby village came up for sale. They were desperate for us to buy it so they could live next door to their best friend, they planned on digging tunnels between the houses for ease of access!
We didn’t need tunnels. For a glorious year I had a good friend (and their two lovely dogs one of whom became bosom buddies with Poppy) a mere couple of yards away. We didn’t live in each other’s pockets but the kettle was often on.
It couldn’t go on forever. Yesterday she started the next stage in her journey and I wish her nothing but love and good fortune. I am mourning the death of one friendship and learning to love the birth of a different one. I am 55 years old, I have lived in this part of the world for 25 years, longer than I have ever lived anywhere in my entire life, I have been married for 25 years and this friendship has spanned almost all the time I have been married and lived here and so is intrinsically linked to a major part of my life so far. It is hard to unpick it and re-work it into a different form.
But I will.
Love Gillie x